I was online yesterday and saw some photos that a couple that are friends of mine had posted. The photos chronicled the first 2000 days of the couple's marriage and life together. It was neat to see the scenes change from wedding day to times with friends to mission work they shared to the birth of their first child. All the photos were marked as Day 1, Day 298, Day 1,000 and so on. They had clearly thought about taking photos along the journey and documenting their life together.
Seeing this collage of photos made me think about all the various events that have happened in my life since I became a Christian. Day 1 might read baptized into Christ in Alamo, TN. After a few months, a day would be set aside for preaching my first sermon. Still later dates would record mission trips, attending a Christian college, baptisms performed, weddings officiated and on and on. Hopefully, just as my friends saw their marriage grow, my Christian life has been growing as well. Each one of us is adding an entry to the journal of life with each day that passes. Some days we want to remember while other days we would rather forget. As we live the Christian life, I hope that we are having a positive impact on others. I hope we are growing in a knowledge of God's word and will for our lives. I hope we are becoming stronger rather than weaker in our service to God and to others.
We all have photo albums or computer files filled with photos. We may use these to remember the Christmas of the bad haircut or the graduation where we had gained some weight. We document so much of our family life, our community life and our social life. Let us not forget to at least mentally take snapshots of our spiritual progress. As we do this hopefully we will be able to look back and see change, difference and growth as we mature in Christ.
Sometimes in life we get into a rut. Our minds don't seem to work as they once did. Our bodies lag and sag and just don't seem to follow the commands we are sending from our brains. Food tastes bland and even sunshine doesn't cheer us. These are not just the winter blues or sadness over a lost relationship or the result of a bad day at work: this feeling is simply present with no explanation. While we may not know the reasons for the feeling, we certainly feel its affects. Often times this feeling can come when, by all standard measurements, we should be doing well. Yet, for whatever reason, we get stuck. Try as we might nothing seems to bring us out of the funk in which we find ourselves. So what are some helpful tips for fighting the doldrums of life:
Stay busy. Resist the urge to camp down in bed. This is an obvious point perhaps but one that is still worth mentioning.
Do something just for you. Take a drive. Read a book. Call a friend. While none of these things will instantly cure your mood, they can lead to more positive thinking and a lifted spirit.
Don't make big decisions. Anything that doesn't have to be resolved, let it ride. You will likely not be at the top of your decision making ability and putting off a critical decision for a couple of days until you are feeling more like yourself can save lots of regret.
Realize that this feeling will pass. You will not always be stuck. Eventually the mental and physical fog will lift and you will be back to your old self. This may not seem true in the middle of the moment, but it is in fact the truth.
Hoping that everyone can have a day that is filled with good things and, if by chance, you are feeling stuck I hope you break free very soon.
Often times in life we will be scheduled to do one activity and then perhaps to take on another project later in the same day. Between the two activities we may have anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours of "downtime." I think in learning to use this time, which is so easy to waste, in something meaningful we can capture some moments in our day that could have otherwise have been lost or prodigalized away.
One time I have like this each week is the time between the morning and evening worship services on Sunday. After lunch, I often feel like I have to wait several hours to go back to services in the evening. Since I live too far to travel home to Alamo during this time, I often just have to look to fill the time with activity. During this wait, it is tempting to surf the Internet, nap or watch TV just to have something to do in Dresden. If instead of pursuing meaningless activity I can dedicate my afternoon to some good thing, I feel much better. Looking over the night's lesson, reading the Bible or visiting folks from church are things that give the afternoon meaning and I can redeem time that otherwise would have been lost.
Another example of redeemable time is when one is taking a long drive. I drive to Memphis each Monday to an appointment and I love spending this time thinking about the week ahead, sometimes listening to my audio Bible or even just relaxing with the radio. The secret to redeeming the hours in between big events is to live with purpose. As we live more purposefully we gain a better perspective on life. By learning not to let precious time slip by unused, we are in essence expanding the amount of time that we have each day. May God help us to be good stewards of our time.
"I believe that the best, surest, and most permanent way to fill
a place of worship is to preach the gospel, and to preach it in
a natural, simple, interesting, earnest way. The gospel itself
has a singularly fascinating power about it, and unless impeded
by an unworthy delivery, or by some other great evil, it will win
its own way. It certainly did so at the first, and what is to hinder
it now? Like the angels, it flew upon its own wings; like the dew,
it tarried not for man, neither waited for the sons of men."
"The gospel has a secret charm about it which secures a hearing:
it casts its good spell over human ears, and they must hearken.
It is God's own word to men; it is precisely what human
necessities require; it commends itself to man's conscience, and,
sent home by the Holy Spirit, it wakes an echo in every heart."
"In every age, the faithful preaching of the good news has brought
forth hosts of men to hear it, made willing in the day of God's power.
Decked in the glories of free and sovereign grace, wearing the
crown-royal of the covenant, and the purple of atonement-
the gospel, like a queen, is still glorious for beauty,
and supreme over hearts and minds."
"Published in all its fulness, with a clear statement of its efficacy
and immutability, it is still the most acceptable news that ever
reached the ears of mortals."
With the death of Whitney Houston this past weekend, worldwide attention was focused on her troubled life and untimely death. The vast majority of us will never be known to the world outside of our small circle and, yet, we all still have an influence. How will the people I interact with from day to day remember me? The people who see me at work, at leisure or at a sporting event? What about my closer friends? What about my family who most likely knows me better than anyone else?
Hopefully we are doing our best to leave favorable impressions on everyone we meet. If every professing Christian left a Christ-like impression on the world imagine the kind of world we would live in. We would have a world with fewer broken families, fewer relationship scandals and fewer people enslaved to the darkness of the world. Rather than discord, a spirit of harmony would grow between all people. Evangelism would be much easier because people would be seeking us out to discover the joy we have in Christ.
Remember that everyday we influence others. We cannot control that fact, but we can control what type of influence we will be. Let us commit to do what is right and change the world for good.
"I value all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity."
Over the last few months, I have gained several items that have made my life much easier by their presence. A smartphone, a new and better computer, a upgraded printer and a raise in salary from our church have all come my way recently either as purchases or gifts. The greater technology makes life easier, the upgraded equipment makes daily tasks quicker to perform and the additional income eases the burden of paying back college loans and medical bills.
That being said, I would have survived without each of these items. They are lovely additions, but not necessary to sustain my life. What do we value most in life? Family photographs, our Bibles, heirlooms and keepsakes are most likely very dear to us as physical possessions. Relationships, words of advice, friendly smiles and memories shared with loved ones are less tangible but probably much more valuable to us.
We must learn to see things as tools: tools that are to be used to give glory to God and help build relationships with others. Wealth is not meant to be hoarded, but it is rather to be shared. I must be sure I am placing proper emphasis on using my blessings for good and for God. My home must be a welcoming place, my vehicle must be transportation for others, my technology a tool to reach out to others and my money a device by which to influence people for the cause of Christ.
May we learn to value things in view of eternity and use our blessings to bless others.
"The thing to remember is if we are all alone, we are all together in that too."
-Kathy Bates' character in P.S. I Love You
Valentine's Day is a fun, commercialized event which causes many men and women to spend quite a bit of time (and often money) attempting to demonstrate their romantic intentions for one another. The holiday is often expanded to include parents and children, brothers and sisters as well as friends. It is certainly a holiday where cards, candy and flowers are sent to establish, confirm or happily continue a relationship.
Valentine's Day demonstrates in a very real way the fact that people desire to be desired. Everyone wants to feel wanted, appreciated and loved. Human beings by nature are social creatures and romantic love forms one of the bedrocks of our social structure. Marriage has existed since the very beginning and the family is the basic unit of our social order.
Yet many people spend their whole lives alone. Some people do this by choice as they are naturally private people who do not desire the company of others or meaningful relationships as do the majority of people. Other people find themselves in the outward appearance of happy relations, but inwardly they are quite lonely. Just as it is a strong desire to be wanted, it is equally a strong desire to be understood. Many people struggle their whole lives looking for understanding from their parents, spouses, children and friends.
I have often thought that, despite the busy social calendar described in the Gospels, that Christ must have been often lonely. No one could understand His deeper thoughts, His foreknowledge, His sufferings or even His joys. As the most unique individual to ever live, truly no one was like Him or capable of fully understanding Him or His life's work. Because Christ was lonely, we can know that He understands our loneliness all too well. He understands the sadness of an abandoned spouse, the heartache of a spurned lover, the tears of an unwanted child. He is always present even in the darkest and most lonely of times. He has taken our nature, including our loneliness, and because of that we never have to be lonely alone.
Paul begins II Corinthians 3 speaking of the fact that he and his fellow workers were well known to the Corinthian brethren. Other than his time in Ephesus and his earliest ministry in Cilicia, Paul spent more time in Corinth than in any other mission point during his ministry.
In verse 2, Paul says that the Corinthian Christians "are our epistle (letter) written in our hearts, known and read by all men." In other words, the actions of the Christian community at Corinth were a testimony to Paul's witness and word among them. In verse 3, Paul further states that "clearly you are an epistle of Christ." Not only did the Corinthians manner of life reflect the touch of Paul's pastoral hand, their lives shone with the very radiance of the personage of Jesus.
It might be good to think of each new day as a blank page of letterhead in a typewriter. With each thought, action and word, we type a few words upon the page. What we type reflects what has influenced us. Does our letter shine with the words and message of Jesus or does it contain things more fitting the prince of darkness than the Prince of Peace? Once the ink is applied to the page, it is difficult to remove the stain. Liquid Paper, White Out or a blotter may be used to erase the words, but the page will never look perfect again. Similarly, we who are in Christ have the ability to have our mistakes (sins) blotted out and covered over, but our lives are still impacted by their consequences. We may change our heart, but spiritual scar tissue remains. Thankfully, God has better vision than we do. When He divinely intercedes and removes the words of hurt, hate or hostility from our story, we are in essence given a fresh sheet of paper and told to start again. Though we often fall short, God's love never fails to cleanse the canvas of our lives and make us new.
If a person "read" your life, who do you suppose it would be a letter from? Would it be a "living epistle" of Christ or more like a nasty note from Satan?
Praying that we all become more Christ-filled and Christ-like as we live our lives from day to day so that our living letter reflects the love of Jesus to everyone we meet.
This week I received an e-mail from a reader in India who noted how much he appreciated this blog; particularly the quotes that I often post. I realize that many of you who read this blog are people that know me in real life and I appreciate your continued support of what I write here. Thanks also to the people around the world who have just happened across this blog and continue to check back and read what is posted here. Someday, as people of faith, we will know the world in a new way and hopefully we will know each other as if we were old friends.
It seems as if more and more of the mail I receive could be classified as "junk mail." Not only does my physical mailbox receive several pieces of this type mail a week, I get literally hundreds of junk/spam mail messages in my e-mail account. Despite filtering the account, occasionally a few pieces of junk mail make it into my Inbox.
There are a lot of messages floating around in our world today. We receive them in our mailboxes, in our e-mail, on our Facebook walls, and through our television sets. We have access to more information at the touch of a finger than previous generations ever could have dreamed. We can video chat with friends around the world and know the latest political, sports, and celebrity news within seconds of it happening.
Yet, for all this information, we have less real communication. Fewer and fewer families spend time together eating and sharing news from their day. Friends communicate more by forwarded e-mail than in meetings over dinner and one-on-one conversations. Even churches have fallen victim to this avalanche of information. People feel less connected to their congregations and so when the slightest trouble or discomfort comes they disconnect completely.
We need to get back to communicating with each other. Families need conversation instead of just cohabitation. Friends need quality time spent in meaningful activities instead of mere status updates. Churches need to engage our current congregates in meaningful and useful service as well as uplifting, unifying worship.
With so many messages, it is easy to get confused about what is important. We must remember that it is people and the relationships that we build with them that will last beyond this life. Once we filter out the excess noise and flashy technology, what remains will hopefully be solid relationships built on love and mutual respect.
"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one."
- Mother Teresa
Many times we get overwhelmed by the amount of injustice and wrong in the world. We are constantly bombarded by 24-hour news channels, fundraising letters, plights of friends and family broadcast through e-mail and on Facebook. We perhaps begin to think that the little bit that I could do wouldn't really make much difference at all, so why bother?
It is true we cannot do everything to solve the problems of the world. We may not even be able to do much to fix the problems that our closest friends and family experience. Despite the fact we cannot do it all, that does not excuse us from doing what we can. Hunger will be solved by feeding one person at a time. Destroying poverty will be accomplished by offering one person a job to better his or her family. Reaching the world for Christ will occur when every Christian talks to just one other person about Jesus.
Friend, don't become overwhelmed that you can't do it all. Just do what you can, where you are, and allow God to work through you. The people you influence will go on to influence others and so will begin a chain reaction that can indeed change the world.
I have spent the last couple of weeks cleaning out files, e-mail folders, bookshelves, greeting cards boxes and several other storage areas of my life. This cleaning has been therapeutic in nature. It was amazing to see things I had held onto for years thinking that someday I might need them again. Many of these things I had forgotten about, but they were still taking up valuable space in my life. When I finally got rid of these items, I felt a great sense of accomplishment and peace.
The same feelings can be felt in our spiritual lives as well. Some of us are holding onto things that now serve no practical purpose in our lives. Sometimes these things are negative in themselves such as grudges or resentments. Other times these items are simply filling space that could better be occupied by something else. As long as we have this clutter in our hearts and in our spirits, we will never be able to store all the blessings that Christ wants to bring us. Once we have removed these negative feelings, ample space is freed up for new, more positive emotions and thoughts.
What in your life do you need to get rid of? Perhaps it is an old hatred that is buried deep in your soul. Perhaps it is a prejudice that causes you to resent and mistreat other people. Perhaps it is pride that blinds you to the good in your fellowmen. Whatever the case may be know that God wants to help you in removing these things and once they are removed He can replace them with Himself. As it has been observed, God never takes away anything that He doesn't replace with Himself. If we will make an effort to cleanse our lives, we will find more room for the power, the presence, and the person of God within us.
The film version of Les Miserables has been cast and will begin filming on March 5, 2012. Hugh Jackman will appear as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe will star as Javert. The cast is first class mix of Hollywood/Broadway/West End actors and the songs will be recorded live during filming rather than dubbing over using tracks from the studio.
Like all Les Miz fans, I am holding my breath to see if the film could possibly live up to such high expectations. One great aspect of having a feature film version is that it will expose a much wider audience to the wonderful music and story of the play.
Less than a year (hopefully) before the premiere on December 5, 2012. Can you hear the people sing?
I went into an unfamiliar bank while I was on my way to Memphis to an appointment this week. I was handed over my check from the church and the teller looked it over and then looked at me.
"Do you attend this church?" she asked.
"Yes, in fact, I am the minister there," I responded.
"That is wonderful! I am a member of the church too. I attend the Jefferson Street congregation here in town," she gushed.
I immediately became conscious of what I was wearing, whether or not I had smiled at the teller, and if I had been friendly. Have you ever been in a social situation and discovered a coworker, an acquaintance, or a teacher/student was a Christian? Did this information shock you when you compared the standards of Christianity with this person's behavior, language, or dress?
We probably have all been surprised to learn certain people were Christians, but why not think about that scenario in reverse? Has anyone ever found out you were a Christian and a look of shock passed across his or her face?
People that know us beyond a passing conversation should be able to recognize that Jesus has played a part in who we are. We ought to become very comfortable with people knowing where we worship and with them knowing that worship is a priority in our lives. We ought to have the type actions, speech, and dress that strengthens rather than discredits our claim of being a Christian. We never know when our conduct in school, business, or recreation will influence someone about Christ. Let's be sure that the message we send about Jesus is a positive one and that when we tell people that we are Christians they will say,
"I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world."
Wouldn't it be great if we all viewed our lives in this way? If we viewed our lives as an instrument of communication from God to our fellowmen? We must, of course, realize that we are but a small part of God's message to mankind, but that we still are a significant part of that message. As the old song says, "We are the only Bible the careless world may read..." Let us be sure that today and everyday that we are sending out a message that causes people to desire what we have: a relationship with the Father. Let us let people see our good works, not for our own glory, but to cause them to seek the the One to whom our lives are dedicated. Let us learn that every erring word, every falsehood, every misspoken phrase is something that has the potential to hinder a fellow sojourner in his or her walk with God. If we realize this, we will be far more careful with the precious words we speak to others.
"The Gospel is only good news if it gets there in time."
— Carl F. H. Henry
Last night at worship, we sang as an invitation hymn "There's a Great Day Coming." If you are not familiar with the song it progresses along the verses by placing adjectives in front of the word "day" to describe the day of Christ's return. The day is described as "great" and "bright" and finally as a "sad" day.
Judgment will be a sad day for many who will hear the Lord say, "Depart, I never knew you." How terrible it would be to hear those words on the Day of Judgment. The knowledge of what was or what might have been will haunt many people throughout eternity.
Perhaps sadder still will be when those condemned perhaps turn to the Christians they knew in this life and say, "You never mentioned Him to me. In all the times we went to dinner, at all the ballgames we attended, on all our coffee breaks at work you knew this truth and did not share it." How will Christians respond? How would you respond? We won't be 5 minutes into eternity before every Christian that ever lived will wish they had prayed more for the lost, spoken more about Jesus, given more of their time, money and resources to the cause of Christ.
One day everyone will hear the Gospel, but for the majority of people it will be too late. Let us make the most of our opportunities to speak up for Christ so that others may enjoy the great day that is soon approaching. If we fail to speak, it maybe that Christ will have a hard time remembering knowing us as well.
I was able to spend all day yesterday with believers talking about the dangers that Christians are experiencing around the world. Several people present event had themselves been persecuted for the faith. One speaker, whose home had been burned and had been beaten many times, kept saying throughout his presentation, "And I am just like you." He meant, of course, that he was not special for having suffered persecution. In his home country, suffering goes hand in hand with being a Christian.
But is this man just like us? Are we dedicated to the cause of Christ even through discomfort and trials? I hope that we are and, if true persecution were to arise, we would be faithful. I believe, however, that if we are not faithful to the cause of Christ now it will be impossible to stand under persecution. What does our choice of entertainment say about our faithfulness to the Lord? What about our choice of friends? Our church attendance? Our personal Bible study habits? Our giving? Our sharing the Gospel with the lost?
I fear sometimes that we do face not persecution not because we are so strong in the faith but because Satan already has us in his power. Choosing to truly live the Christian life will cost us something and perhaps everything. Let us be found faithful no matter what comes.
I have made some updates to the blog. I have cleaned up the list of links in the sidebar and added new information to the "About Me" and "Quotes" pages. Thanks so much for reading and I pray that God will continue to bless you and your journey.
This week I was caught up one day and decided to watch a movie. I decided to watch the 1968 classic version of Romeo and Juliet. Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the story of these two star-crossed lovers. As children of two prominent feuding families, Romeo and Juliet should not allow themselves to fall in love, but as often happens, the two young people get swept up in their emotions. Forced to marry in secret, a series of unfortunate events occur to the young couple and they end up dying tragically at the end of the story.
One of the leading ideas of the play is fate or chance and how it affects the lives of the characters. One aspect of life not emphasized in the play is choice. Many people in life blame or credit chance when, in all actuality, they should realize that choices played an important role in the situation. It is sometimes easy to blame bad luck when perhaps instead we should blame bad choices. Certainly some unfortunate events happen even when people make all the right choices, but I would venture to suggest that these cases are the exception rather than the rule.
When we make good choices, we influence life in our favor. Good choices, of course, are the ones influenced by Christ. When we make choices that mirror the choices that Jesus made we may not reap material benefits, but spiritual blessings will flow. Choosing to do the right thing is the most sure way to avoid regret. As it is said, a clear conscience makes a soft pillow. When we do our best to make right decisions we can know that we are pleasing to God.